Photo Story: Pre-Season Testing in Portugal with Commencal Muc-Off

Mar 21, 2020
by Ross Bell  

With such fine margins at the top of downhill racing there can be no stone left unturned by teams and riders as they search to eradicate any weakness in both themselves and their equipment, trying to shave crucial seconds and even tenths off their race times in doing so. Preparation is one thing and execution another, but at least with the right tools in place you stand your best chance at delivering your full potential. "Off" seasons seem to be shrinking each winter and it's not long after the final drop of champagne is sprayed that teams begin preparing for the following season. Commencal Muc-Off is one of the biggest teams on the circuit these days and employs a pretty intense testing schedule which starts as early as October and features at least one week of testing each month right through until the start of the season. They work closely with Commencal and have two employees from the Andorran office that travel to not only each team camp but every World Cup too, Arthur Quet an engineer and Maxime Auguin who mechanics for both Myriam Nicole and Thibaut Daprela. The feedback from the team is savoured by Commencal and does, in fact, trickle down into the production models. Having two Commencal employees working in the team makes that transfer of feedback extra seamless.

Over the past few seasons, we've seen the team experimenting with things like idler and shock positions on almost a race to race basis. Not many brands make changes and test at the races so openly in the eye of their competitors and the media but Commencal and Riding Addiction (who own and run the team) have a long relationship together and both know how important it is to keep moving forward. Commencal has realised how integral racing is to their company and how useful it is for improving their products, Riding Addiction is the perfect match to help facilitate that and push it forward. Over the past few seasons they had been developing a bike to keep up with the rigours and demands of a certain Mr Pierron. Initially, it was only destined for the race team but over time they realised that it was becoming more and more current and that not only their factory riders would benefit from the direction they had headed in. That very bike is now being brought into production.

The work never stops though and as we joined the team in Tarouca, Portugal in the middle of a 10-day testing stint the 7 strong squad didn't look to be resting on their laurels. Boxes with the words "PROTOTYPE" inscribed on them are stacked by the door whilst bikes are wheeled out into vans complete with data acquisition kit draped off them. You can't have any compromises if you want to be at the front of the pack and that's exactly what Commencal are striving for.

bigquotesThis winter we have done a lot more than in previous years even. I think for 2 or 3 years we’ve been working a lot more on the bikes in the winter but this winter has been another step forward, it has been really interesting. I think there has been a lot of improvement in every aspect on the bike. I would say combined and including testing with individual riders we are not far off 2 months worth of testing from the end of October through to the first world cup. We’re currently spending 10 days in Portugal and going to 3 different locations. It’s the first time we’ve done that kind of schedule, usually we’d just go to Lousa for 2 weeks and do our stuff there but it’s good to see new tracks and also meet a few Portuguese guys from different places who are really motivated to bring people riding in Portugal.Thibaut Ruffin - Team Owner & Racer

bigquotesI won’t say our secrets but there have been quite a few key points that we had to work on and our partners have been supportive with that alongside the team and mechanics. It’s been great to work together and with the riders to give good feedback and make it work. I think in the end we found out a lot more than we were thinking we would find. It’s pretty exciting for the coming season to see how it goes compared to last year. Arthur was at all the World Cups last year and I think he did all the team camps last winter but now he’s more officially part of the team. It’s very good for us as the team because everything is more structured and it enables us to move forward easier. Then longer term the customers at Commencal benefit from our feedback too. Our relationship with Commencal has always been really close, in the team we all speak the same language, in Commencal they all speak the same language so it’s just easy to get that relationship going. The crew at Commencal also understand what racing really is and they know that they can get a lot of good information from this. We have both Arthur and Maxime with us who are part of Commencal as well, I think it’s key for them to have these people here to bring proper feedback too.Thibaut Ruffin - Team Owner & Racer

bigquotesI would say we are currently releasing with my colleagues at Commencal that everything starts from racing. Being so close to these guys and being so involved in racing and having a good mindset is a huge benefit for Commencal because we can see 2 or 3 years in advance of the market in terms of understanding the riders needs. This helps a lot to understand what the customer will want in 2 years as the development cycle for one bike is between 1 to 2 years. With the bike we developed last year for the team it came to a point that we finally decided to make this a production bike, we realised that what Amaury was wanting last year or 2 seasons ago was becoming more and more current. Every rider was looking for this. Working with the team is useful for seeing into the future and understanding the details, also having the pressure of the competition there and having the best test riders is so useful.Arthur Quet - Commencal and Team Engineer

bigquotesWhat helps working with the team is to have the knowledge. With engineering everything is measured, we try to understand everything. I am quite happy because after we worked on this prototype for the team we reused some of the ideas on the evolution of our new enduro bike. We just got the first prototype a few weeks ago and it works well. It’s crucial to understand the details and get a good balance between all the parameters. Everyone talks about suspension progressivity, leverage ratios, anti-squat, kick back, or whatever... But it’s super hard to define the proper balance, so working hard with the teams helps me to understand that more.Arthur Quet - Commencal and Team Engineer

bigquotesIt's a part of the job I like a lot. Working with the mechanics and engineers like Arthur, I love this part. To me it's really important to be confident before the season and to test a lot of things on different tracks, it makes it easier when you come to different tracks throughout the season to adapt your settings. I decided to ride with the mullet for this year. To be honest I had really good fun on the full 27.5 because I’m not really tall and my style is quite aggressive and I move a lot on the bike. But currently if you want to be at the front of the racing you need to have a big wheel on the front I think, it’s a good balance with the 29 on the front and the 27.5 on the rear. I feel comfortable on the front and the feeling is still good on the back with being able to move a lot on the bike. We started to try this setting in November and we worked a lot with Arthur to adapt the kinematics and now I’m ready to ride with that. I did actually try this setting at the beginning of the 2019 season but I didn’t have enough time to feel good on the bike before the first race.Remi Thirion

bigquotesIt’s really important. Every winter is different. We are always pushing to find some new stuff, always looking for a new bike setup to go faster. I think our sport is still in a big boom and there are a lot of parts that come of course from training and our mental skill, but also in our bike setup. It’s really important. We do 1 or 2 weeks of testing every month, I would say 10 days a month from December until March or April which is a lot and it’s pretty intense. We try wheels, tires, suspension, frame, everything… It’s a part that sometimes I would have overlooked before and would just be in the gym training, but to set up your bike is really important. I’m riding with the big wheel in the front now. I’m still not 100% sure on it but this is a big goal this winter to develop this bike, I know my 27.5 bike really well so I want to take time to set this one up and we’ll see. It’s different and it's a balance, I'm sure there’s not a big gap in my timing between the big and small wheel but it’s definitely different. I think I will ride with the mullet but I’m not 100% sure. I did 2 World Cups with the full 29er at the very beginning and I struggled to dance on my bike, I feel like I didn’t spend enough time to develop the bike but I don’t think the full 29er setup will be good for me. I think Max Commencal has seen how important it is to have all the staff, the mechanics, the engineers… Every year they are putting more investment into this and every winter they are seeing that we need to keep working on that but still continuing to have fun. I think we are strong because we work on everything and we try not to forget anything.Myriam Nicole


  • 19 0
 We’re going to get a lot of preseason before 2021 I think
  • 9 0
 Let’s see the new enduro bike too!
  • 2 0
  • 3 0
 Pretty sure when the season finally starts, that Pierron will be in Beast mode again!
  • 1 0
 what's the spot, trails look nice
  • 1 0
 Tarouca dh track, Portugal.
  • 1 1
 Nice chat, but not much info. I guess they are tight lipped before the season.
  • 11 0
 Before what? What is this season thing you are talking about?
  • 1 0
 @lkubica: fair call
  • 3 2
 World: Pandemic!

Commencal: Champagne Bukkake!
  • 3 2
 What about corona?!
  • 1 0
 This was done some while ago.
  • 3 0
 @yerbikesux I think this is the shoot you're after:
  • 1 2
 Is anyone on this team any good?
  • 5 0
 None of them won any races this year...
  • 2 0
 Guys, my comment was purely sarcasm - I know they're beasts!
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